The new year brought the same disappointment for Justin Kier.
The George Mason University senior, a leader on the Patriots men’s basketball team, was still on the sideline with a fractured right foot that had required surgery and already caused him to miss the bulk of the season.
So it was with particular joy, he said, that in January he learned he was a nominee for the national Senior Class Award, which not only measures athletic prowess, but a player’s character and work in the community.
“It was some light coming into a dark place,” Kier said. “I was down, didn’t know what was going to happen with my injury. So it brightened my mood.”
Kier was not a finalist, but being associated with the award, presented annually by Premier Sports Management, makes him part of an exclusive club. Only 30 NCAA Division I men’s basketball players were accepted as nominees.
Kier, a 6-foot-4 guard from Grottoes, Virginia, who averaged 9.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in nine games this season, was nominated by Mason Athletics.
“He just oozes character and is as good a leader and teammate as I’ve ever been around,” Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. “He embodies the notion of servant leadership, and has an innate sense of how to connect with people.”
“It’s just God telling me I’m blessed,” said Kier, who is majoring in sport management. “Not just with basketball, but with community and school.”
It is an uplifting outlook considering what Kier has faced.
When he was 7 years old, his mother had a heart attack while driving, hit a tree and is now paralyzed, blind and cannot speak. Kier, who was in the car with her, was uninjured and escaped through a down window. With his mother disabled and father out of the picture, Kier and his older brother, Rasheed, were raised by their grandmother, Evelyn, and grandfather, David.
Kier also had relatives, neighbors and church members keeping him and Rasheed on the right path. That is why Kier said he always takes time to talk with anyone who asks for advice, which mostly happens when he is back home and on the local basketball courts, at his old high school or at church.
“I try to do everything I can,” Kier said. “I wouldn’t be here without these people.”
It is also why he enjoyed helping run a youth summer camp at Mason two summers ago as his practicum, and his internship at a boxing club in Fairfax, where he not only learned about sales and promotion, but absorbed enough about boxing to teach a class.
“He’s engaged and engaging,” said Robert Baker, director of Mason’s Center for Sport Management. “He has an appreciation for the little things. And he’s empathetic, so he doesn’t take things for granted like many of us do.”
“I always believe the good Lord gives you battles, but you don’t fold,” Kier said. “I’m just trying to be the best person I can be.”